People in COVID-19 vaccine trials at UNC, Duke talk about why they volunteered

North Carolina

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Researchers across the world are racing to come up with a vaccine to prevent COVID-19, and in order to do that they need tens of thousands of volunteers willing to roll up their sleeves and test it.

CBS 17 spoke to two people participating in the vaccine trials about why they wanted to take part and what they’re experiencing. 

Rachel Lieff Axelbank knows the pain COVID-19 can cause. She lost her grandmother to the virus. 

“My grandma lived in New York City, in an assisted living facility, and it was really what we were afraid of,” she said.  “Losing her and then also not able to be together was like the double injury.”

Wanting to do her part to fight the pandemic, Axelbank, of Hillsborough, volunteered for a vaccine trial at UNC.

“I was raised to believe that you do whatever you can to help others,” she explained.  

Dr. Cameron Wolfe researches and treats infectious diseases, including COVID, at Duke. He’s volunteering for a clinical trial there. 

“I have to believe that part of the prevention here is to have as many people as possible get safely vaccinated, and we can’t get to that part unless we have a robust number of people willing to volunteer,” Wolfe said.

 The trials at Duke and UNC are testing vaccines made by different companies, but both require two doses several weeks apart. Participants monitor any potential side effects. 

“There are some people who, after the second dose of these vaccines, have some minor muscle aches and pains fevers chills that sort of thing,” noted Wolfe.

“I felt that I experienced some things over the 24 hours after each dose,” said Axelbank. “I would not have said for sure because basically I was given a reason to go looking for something.”

Neither Wolfe nor Axelbank knows whether they received a placebo or the real thing, but both hope their experience helps determine whether these vaccines are safe and effective. 

“It also helps me to be professionally in a better place to tell patients and colleagues what that experience was like,” said Wolfe.

“This is also about my grandma’s legacy,” said Axelbank, who described her grandmother as a community activist. “She would absolutely have been out there herself had anyone accepted her as a trial participant.” 

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